Mard (1985)

mard

I sometimes have very vivid and detailed but thoroughly crazy dreams; I wake up and think: “What on earth?” and worry for a minute that there’s something wrong with me, then go about my day and forget about it. Now I know that Manmohan Desai had those kinds of dreams too, except that in the case of at least one of them, he woke up and thought: “That should be a movie!” And so he made Mard.

It’s a trip through a demented sort of Disneyland, populated with characters from about a hundred different movie genres and policed by animals who are smarter than all the people around them combined. If you surrender yourself to the journey (and the film demands that you do) there’s a kind of lyricism and rhythm about it that’s hypnotic: it’s impossible to look away, but there’s an emotional detachment about it as well. You are just a spectator—so no worries!—but kya baat hai.

There is a thin but steely thread of a plot which binds the spectacle together. This thread concerns itself mainly with Desai’s usual subjects: a family torn apart at the hands of evil (evil in this case being the cruel and greedy representatives of the British Raj) and redemption sought by the weak against the powerful. It’s overwhelmingly embellished with a strange jumbled hodgepodge of cultural and historical references and flat-out lunacy.

What makes me love the film is that the plot somehow manages to keep on its feet long enough—albeit staggering under its burden—to achieve resolution at the end. So: epic fairytale-like story + jaw-dropping craziness = one-of-a-kind cracktastic entertainment. It isn’t subtle, but subtle can be overrated.

The British and their henchmen are gleefully and joyfully evil, reminding me somewhat of Mr. India’s Mogambo.

mrindia_ruinanddestroy

mard_looting

The main obstacle to their enthusiastic work is King Azad Singh (Dara Singh) (love him!), whose wife Durga (Nirupa Roy) has just given birth to a son. Azad Singh is the proud ruler of the area, who dislikes the occupiers of his country and especially loathes their pillaging of his heritage.

mard_cowards

He is betrayed by an Anglo-Indian, Dr. Harry (Prem Chopra), and arrested by the British; he is saved from a gruesome end by a sprite from the Edwardian age named Lady Helena (Helena), who commutes his death sentence to life in prison.

mard_helena

Durga barely manages to escape with the newborn Prince (although not before Azad Singh carves the word “Mard” into his little infant chest), but in fleeing from her pursuers loses their son (he is rescued by the horse Bahadur) and her voice. Traitorous Dr. Harry is rewarded with the mayorship of Azad’s former kingdom, and his palace.

Years pass, and Azad’s son is brought up by a poor baker (Satyendra Kapoor) and his wife (Seema Deo). He grows up to be Raju (Amitabh Bachchan), a tongawala, and his closest companions are the unbelievably intelligent and empathetic horse Badal and dog Moti.

mard_badal_moti

One of my favorite things about Desai’s films are that he “gets” that animals have more to offer than we generally recognize. This is not portrayed realistically (hello! it’s Manmohan Desai!) but at least it’s there. For instance, Azad Singh’s horse Bahadur attempts to save him from Dr. Harry’s treachery, but his actions are misunderstood by all—including Azad—and he fails, although we are treated to the sight of Dara Singh wrestling with a hilariously fake pair of equine front legs.

mard_bahadur

I digress. The now Mayor Harry has a daughter Ruby (Amrita Singh; her name is subtitled as Zubbie too occasionally) who is spoiled, wayward and selfish. Driving recklessly one day, she hits Durga (who is now a mute old beggar woman) and drags her some distance before she is stopped by Raju.

Again, the horse Badal seems to know that Durga is Raju’s real mother, and he pulls them to the orphanage where Raju was rescued from British capture by Bahadur years before. Badal is possibly Bahadur’s offspring? or perhaps Bahadur himself with a different name—I imagine that Manmohan Desai would have no trouble at all with dispensing of the natural aging process of a horse.

mard_orphanage

Mayor Harry’s henchman are the strangely dressed (usually as Sherlock Holmes) Goga (Goga Kapoor), the perpetually sunburned Simon (Bob Christo) and the topi-sporting General Dyer (Kamal Kapoor), whose name is an unsubtle reference to the instigator of Amritsar’s Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre. They are as despicable as despicable gets, caricatures of imperialist tyranny. Their actions provide plenty of rescue opportunities for Raju, Badal and Moti; it’s a veritable incoming and outgoing tide of cruelty, revenge and insult.

mard_dudh

Amidst all of this, Ruby falls in love with Raju (the ppcc has dwelt upon their strange sado-masochistic chemistry, so I don’t have to).

mard_whip

mard_nascent

I love that the subtitler can’t spell Ruby/Zubbie’s name consistently, but uses words like nascent. 

Anyway, this budding romance makes her father very unhappy. Since he can’t arrest Raju (the Edwardian Helena at work again), he tries—and fails—to bribe him.

mard_blackwhite1

Raju follows this confrontation with a stinging song about Mayor Harry and company, and their yoke of oppression: “Buri Nazar Wale.” He hangs and then burns them in effigy.

mard_song

To make matters worse, Ruby too has turned against her father and his cronies, and calls them traitors.

mard_foreigner

To get Ruby away from Raju and his influence, Harry ships her off forcibly to marry Dyer’s son Danny (Dan Dhanoa).

mard_danny

Danny is no nicer than his father (he may, in fact, be worse). He fancies himself a cowboy, and runs some sort of hard labor prison camp with slaves supplied from India’s bastis by Dyer. Given his penchant for working them to death, draining their blood (to send to the Empire’s soldiers in Burma) or forcing them into his quicksand bog of death, he’s in constant need of replacements. One such raid nets Durga!

mard_camp

One of the best things about the camp is its whip-wielding guards dressed in red-caped Mephistopheles outfits. Also: the genie-like overseer called Melton (at least by BollyBob):

mard_melton

Another great thing: Azad Singh is here too! He’s been powering a huge grindstone all by himself for 25 years, providing the other prisoners with the only grain they ever get to eat.

mard_gangsallhere

Oh boy! Now all we need is Raju to come and rescue everyone, reunite his mother and father, and figure out that he’s their son. Will he?

And how!!! One of my very few quibbles with Manmohan Desai is that his marvelously set up situations are often resolved in a hurry, which makes me feel very let down. This is not the case with this film. It’s as satisfying as you could want it to be, and as completely and majestically loony as the rest of it. This is not a film for the faint of heart or those who seek a measure of realism. It’s a cartoon, but what an epic cartoon it is!

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52 Comments to “Mard (1985)”

  1. Greta: I am in awe of the sheer virtuosity you display considering that it is “Mard”! Er, regarding the first screencap–Rajesh’s hairy, jiggly tum tum and chest is waaay better :-D And on that monumentally incisive note, I take your leave……still in awe–many ‘pranams’. And apologies–my tolerance for AB after 1982 is next to nil.

  2. I was shocked *shocked* to discover how much I liked Mard. It’s taken me a long time to get around to watching it since so many people have panned it. But I loved it!!! One man’s trash and all that :-)

  3. Those effigies are just too funny. So is the genie who probably lost his way from the other lost-prince-Amitabh movie (Ajooba) and wondered into this one.

    P.S. What is Amitabh and his tonga doing in the middle of swimming pool? Is that their version of “in the soup”?

  4. I can’t believe you just got to Mard! As you might imagine, it is a touchstone film for me in terms of my personal journey through Bollywood.

    My pet theory is that it’s Desai’s attempt to make a movie in the style of the type of “post-apocalyptic” movies that were cropping up in the wake of The Road Warrior at the time. You know, the type where some of the people are dressed in, say, Roman togas and carrying spears, while others are sporting Vivian Westwood style leather bondage gear and riding machinegun mounted Harleys, while others are in some kind of fascist, Nazi-inspired regalia, and they’re all fighting for dominance over what’s left of society in a post-nuclear wasteland. I think that Moti and Badal’s preternatural intelligence is a result of them being mutated by radiation. The only problem is that Desai forgot to include the prologue explaining all of this.

  5. Ohh memsaab you seem to have the best copy of this movie ever! I adore this movie just as i do with many of Amitabh’s shoddier 80’s movies, like Coolie for instance! I think King Dara and Helena must had a thing going on before because they have great chemistry, and so do Amitabh and Amrita that was just plain sexy!
    Did you also spot the reappearance of the Shashitabh duo, the statue of general Curzon is exactly like Shashi!

  6. Amey: The effigies were awesome. There was just so much awesome stuff in here. The tonga is in the pool of the Royal Windsor Club where Amitabh had gone to rescue his father from the clutches of the bad guys (he drove it at top speed through the doors with the sign next it saying “No dogs and Indians allowed” and smack into the pool). I thought it was just a brilliant shot.

    Todd: I know! Perhaps I just wasn’t ready for it before. I’d just read so many bad reviews of it. But those people clearly didn’t know what they were talking about. And I like your theory! I loved how this one felt so lost in time and lost to all reason. Wish I could ask MD to explain it :-)

    Rum: The best copy ever? I loved Coolie too so we’re on the same page :-) I didn’t really see any resemblance to Shashi in the Curzon statue, I admit, but that was also my least favorite scene in the movie. I thought Amrita and Amitabh (and Helena and Dara) were great too, one criticism of this film that I’ve seen a lot is the age difference between Amrita and Amitabh but it didn’t bother me. Amrita was just so…hmmm…mature? that it didn’t seem to matter.

  7. Oh, I just love Mard. After seeing Don and this, I definitely knew I was falling in love with Bollywood.

    How can people pan this film? It is so gloriously insane!

  8. Wow, you got off to a flying start with Bollywood! :-) Mard is glorious indeed (and insane).

  9. All this insanity and then the end is long drawn out, too! :-(

    I remember when the movie came out, one wit asked who the Mard was – Amrita or Amitabh! Poor Amrita Singh was considered too macho for a heroine (I dont think so, but she’s never been a favorite of mine either).

  10. All I can muster up to say is “Woah.” Added to my to watch list.

  11. bollyviewer: I thought the end was marvelously paced…As I said, MD usually disappoints me by rushing through the events I’ve been waiting for since the beginning—the worst example of this being Amar Akbar Anthony. LOL @ Amrita=Mard…I’ve never really gotten her appeal, but she was great in this, and quite lovely as well.

    sitaji: After you see it, that will be all about you can muster up as well :-)

  12. I wonder if Simon was named after the Simon Commision- probably, with the strange associations made in this movie, anything is possible :)

    I can never forget the last scene in the movie, where the stone horse comes to life and leaves its rider behind- who remains hanging in mid air. Super whoa!

  13. I bet every time I watch it I’ll find new connections…it’s stuffed full of them. I love the last scene, leaving Curzon just hanging there. Hee!

  14. i read somewhere — don’t remember where or when, or what the context of the story was — that Amitabh was discussing something with Manmohan Desai once, getting some advice on some topic not related to the movies, & wondering out loud, “how can this ever be possible?” bla bla bla. And Desai apparently answered, “hey, if you can believe in my movies, then you can believe in this too” :-P

    that told me Manmohan Desai always *knew* what he was doing, and went ahead & did it anyway!! lol..

  15. Oh I totally agree that he always knew what he was doing! Otherwise his films would not be nearly as compelling. Some of his choices seem way more thoughtful than others, but I guess he’s the only one who knows why!

  16. Re: Amrita, have you seen her movie “Chameli Ki Shaadi”? it’s a pretty neat romantic comedy (done in Hrishikesh Mukherjee-style — that simplicity, realistic touch; forgot who the director was) — she was fantastic in that, and so was her co-star Anil Kapoor.

    I find her fascinating, if nothing else, for her unconventional looks. I liked her in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman; I found her interesting in Aaina. She played the “pretty” sister to “ugly duckling” Juhi in that movie — and I really found that interesting, since most people see Juhi as being prettier than Amrita. But her performance was so confident in that movie — so arrogant & yet with shades of vulnearability,– that it was just perfect! Poles apart from Chameli Ki Shaadi, where she played a silly, sweet, naive young girl, again hitting just the right notes!

  17. I will look for it, I haven’t seen nearly enough of her. I liked Aaina a lot too, and you’re right—she pulled off the “pretty” sister bit despite Juhi really being a lot prettier. And I thought she was really very pretty in this film, although again she led with her personality.

  18. Amrita Singh is a talented actress. However she is widely known by her nickname ie “Mard Singh” in India

    Her first movie was “Betaab” (barely in her teens – fat and chubby) was with Sunny Deol . It had some good songs by RD Burman?

  19. Memsaab, I love reading your reviews and Mard (a film I avoided so far due to negative word of mouth) will go right into the shopping cart!

  20. u loved mard?
    i “love” you for loving mard. that means no movie is every going to shudder you. you are just madly in lov with hindi movies.
    only a mother can love this child!
    u r great!

  21. I’d love to know what a movie of your dreams would be like… Great review, look forward to watching this one.

  22. In an interview I once read with Manmohan Desai, he described his movies as being like roller coasters. Once they get going they should never give the viewer the chance to pause for breath.

    Each scene outdoes the previous one. By the time the viewer is thinking ‘what the hell was that’, the next scene appears to top it & sweeps them along …

    This definitely holds true for ‘Mard’ !

    Asli Jat

  23. Anonymous: I’ll be looking for more of her…I think that in large part I’ve so far avoided most films from the 1980s because the first few I saw from that decade were so bad. But I’m running out of films from the other decades so I guess it’s time to plunge in! :-)

    Eliza: It’s crazy but it’s so much fun…you really can’t look away.

    harvey: I loved Mard :-) But if you want to see a film that made me cringe, look no further than the one I reviewed before this one!

    Marta: My dreams are lots of times pretty much like this film! MD was a soulmate, I’ve decided. I’ll watch it again with you for sure, would love to see your reaction to it.

    Asli Jat: Yup, Mard is a roller-coaster all right! Thanks for the insight on his thinking about them too :-)

  24. I could not stand this Amitabh Bachchan movie consiudering how Manmohan Desai had taken his audience for granted. And worse, the audiences fully lived up to his expectations.

    Though I could not bring myself to watch this movie if my life depended on it, I enjoyed reading this review. It takes endless supply of patience and calm mind to go through this movie and then come up with such a review full of wit, humour and interesting observations.It is an amazing review. I can say that you have gone to much greater pains in this review than the story writer of this movie.

    Watching this movie, and still retaining your sanity and coming up with a review like this, it is simply mindblowing. I do not have words to express my admiration for this review.

  25. Atul you are funny. I’ve only written about what I myself got out of the film, so MD and his writers did something right! I really really enjoyed it. Maybe it was one of those fortuitous confluences of mood and movie, which just fit each other perfectly, but I didn’t want to tear myself away from it. Or maybe I’m just insane too. Hmmm.

  26. I was looking for logic in the movie and found none. May be I was in a minority.

  27. Ah. That was your mistake. There’s a lot of great stuff going on in here, but logic has nothing to do with any of it :-)

  28. Have you done a review of “Barsaat ki raat”. I am watching this movie now and I am absolutely loving it.

  29. No, I can’t find it (my usual places to buy DVDs are always out of stock). I am dying to see it because I love the songs from it so much.

  30. Incidentally K N Singh is also there playing the role of Madhubala’s father in this movie.

  31. Oooh, I have Barsaat Ki Raat, mad-subtitles and all.

    I agree with Atul, I can only admire how beautifully and neatly you can write about films like Mard.
    My head starts bashing against the wall.
    Memsaab, you actually make us knowledgeable without having to go through the trauma of watching it.
    Amrita, didn’t someone name her “ghori”? I don’t think I have seen any film of hers.
    If you run out of films, I have been “listening” to films thru internet TV while working at the computer: http://www.idesitv.com seems to have a decent collection of channels and at least Zee cinema is subtitled with not too many ad interruptions.

  32. I will never run out of films. I think given the number of films India has produced (I haven’t even got started on other regions) over the last 80 years or so, and the number of them that I like to watch over and over, that if I manage to get through most of the ones I want to see I’ll be lucky.

    :-) I will watch Mard for you bawa any time!

  33. Thanks Atul, Bawa! I was beginning to feel v.v. lonely as the sole hater of ‘Mard’ before you chipped in :-) But am in total agreement with you on what I call Memsaab’s virtuosity in writing about it. To quote you Memsaab, “wah wah” :-)

  34. Many people besides the three of you hate Mard. I was prepared to, myself. And thanks, again, for your very kind compliments, all of you!

  35. I don’t think it would be a generalisation to say that most Indians hate “Mard”. It is one of most disliked Manmohan Desai movies.

    However as all others have pointed out, kudos to you Memsaab for not only enjoying the movie but also sharing your interesting thoughts. Reading your review is much more pleasurable than watching the movie!

  36. of course it is a compliment, memsaab!
    u reveal things to us/me, which we/I never noticed!
    Not liking mard is and was a very in thing. If a person like/d mard, he belonged ot athani (50p) class. And that makes u a real iconoclast!

    As you said before: “If you surrender yourself to the journey (and the film demands that you do) there’s a kind of lyricism and rhythm about it that’s hypnotic: it’s impossible to look away, but there’s an emotional detachment about it as well.” I/we don’t have this virtue to surrender. Or at least haven’t tried it. Thus, you open doors to us, which we never even realised, that they exist.

    Therein lies the greatness of your work that you pay attention to films, which people and critics have neglected.

    Now, I mean really each and every word I’ve written above and am grateful to you for reviewing the movie as you have done it.

    Thanks for the wonderful job you are doing

  37. I just love the juxtaposition of insanity and morality that exists in this. Although I can see that if you take the view that he’s thumbing his nose at the audience you wouldn’t be wrong.

    Plus, I guess MD and I could have had long conversations about dream imagery, because I’ve had some dreams which if made into films would be considered completely crazy—and most likely, bad.

  38. HAHAHAHAHA, cracktastic is the best description of this movie indeed. I’m always sad when people don’t like Mard because for me it’s the epitome of WTF-ness and I love it dearly! And I always end up forgetting bits and pieces of the movie and then I see things like that effigy scene above and for a moment I think – “er, I don’t remember the scene where AB morphed into a little person” and then it strikes me and I fall in love all over again.

    God, I love it.

  39. Amrita: I think if I watched this 100 times I would still not see everything in it. Am v.v. happy to have your company in my trip through crazyland! I always find it difficult to control myself over screencaps (as no doubt all of you have noticed) but this…I wanted to capture every shot. I really had to exert some willpower.

  40. Only 100 times? Lol, join the club! :)

  41. Why don’t you praise Amitabh’s performance in this great movie?can u see everything?Whom bollywood actor do you like most?Whoever the actor may be but you can’t ignore 1 thing nobody isn’t greater than Amitabh.

  42. I guess I assumed that Amitabh’s (and everyone else’s) great performance in this went without saying :-) He was fabulous; the film without the charisma and charm of the people involved would have just been an exercise in crazy. It’s always the humanity of the characters in Desai’s films that make them work for me, and the caliber of the actors he always worked with—including Amitabh—provided that.

    I haven’t written about many of AB’s films here, I realize; I think it’s because I saw almost all of them way before I started this blog. But I am a huge fan of his :-)

  43. I came to this review based on Marta’s recommendation and now will definitely see if I Laura has Mard in her collection for me to borrow (not that I don’t already have nearly a dozen dvds of hers on loan.) But, I always feel somewhat even more aged when I go back and see the Amitabh I lusted for in my twenties and know its the same Amitabh from Bunti aar Babli, KKKG, etc. (Though he has greyed more gracefully than I.) I’ve been enjoying your site for a few months now — and as I asked Marta to tell you, you’ve definitely got Tashan Greta!

  44. Heh, Carolyn—you must see Mard. Marta admitted that she liked it (although perhaps she was only being polite, her husband didn’t :-)

    I wish I’d known Amitabh in my twenties! I feel cheated, honestly. But he’s still hot here so have no fear!

  45. Laura has put Mard in my queue. Its very nice having a next door Hindi film repository. I’m re-watching Tashan as I type because you and Marta reminded me of “Bacchhan Pande’s” great motorcycle entrance and the other great moments of the film (plus I can fast forward through the tedious actions scenes on dvd.). BTW, sometime we’ll have to talk Hrithik — perfectly good eye candy is to be appreciated for its own sake, but then when you combine it with those smoky eyes and that completely Hindi Love Film sensuability. . .how can you not lap it up?

  46. good movie. Mard was one of amitabh’s good movies. he later turned into doing all B grade movies jsut because he wanted to get out of debt. you can check out some of his movies at http://www.tvfordesis.com

  47. Mard did exceptional business of 9.25 Crore in 1985 which if adjusted today comes to 90 Crore. It was BlockBuster Hit with 15 golden jubilees. Madhu cinema, Yamuna nagar celebrate golden jubilee (65 weeks) which is highest run, apart from this some significant runners – Golcha- Delhi (45 weeks), Regal – Delhi (26 weeks), Filmistan – Delhi (19 Weeks), Amba Delhi (36 Weeks), Neelam Chandigarh (18 weeks), Apsara – Bombay (34 weeks), Alankar – mumbai (18 weeks), Plaza – Mumbai (38 Weeks), Chitra – Mumbai (19 weeks). All in All Total 15 Golden Jubilees and many silver jubilees with overall 9.25 Crore in hand made this movie a blockbuster. Its record was broken after 4 years by “Maine Pyaar Kiya” in 1989 which collects 15 Crore.

    Unadjusted Figure: 9.25 Crore Nett

    Adjusted Figure: 90 Crore Nett

    Verdict: Blockbuster

    http://bollybusiness.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/this-week-from-past-mard-1985/

  48. Memsaab,

    You’d mentioned this review when I’d commented on your Teen Bahuraniyan post. Loved it. There’s this piece I’d done on Manmohan Desai. Do check it out. :)

    http://rant-avenue.blogspot.com/2008/11/portrait-of-director-manmohan-desai.html

  49. I know I am quite late in the party ;) I had read your review long back but never got a chance to watch Mard.. as I always thought that I would HATE it, considering the feedback of so many people. But, this weekend eve I was alone and HAD to watch some movie on TV and Mard was just starting. So FINALLY I saw this one.

    And.. I loved it…. :D which I never thought I would. I just could not get myself to change the channels and I hated it when there was a break. I agree with you that this is a crazy movie and just ANYTHING keeps on happening. No logic. But an entertaining one. Loved the chemistry between AB and Amrita. Btw, I like her as she is quite different than the usual heroines. Also the scenes of face masks, they were hilarious!!!!

    Also, I was quite shocked and distressed by the manner in which some older actors are manhandled in many scenes.. like Nirupa Roy being thrown around and pushed, similarly for Seema Deo. And it did not look like they were lookalike being used.

    Your review does full justice to the movie…yay!!!

  50. Horrible is the word for Mard. It was however a golden jubilee hit, shows the taste of the audience.

    The film was remade in tamil as “Maaveeran” with rajinikanth but flopped miserably.

    Manmohan Desai had a war of words with Prakash mehra who made “Sharabi” with amit.

    MD said ” Only a mard can make a mard & a sharabi can make a sharabi”.

    Mard also shows amit at his male chauvinistic best.

    Mard is one in a long list of crap films done by amitabh.

  51. Mard is the highest grossing film of 1985 and was one of Amitabh’s most popular films overseas. It ran for nearly 2 years in Egypt! They liked it for its anti colonial elements. It was among top 10 grossers of the decade from 1975 to 1985. It is still one of Amitabh’s most popular films on television.

    The dialogue Mard ko dard nahin hota was and is a cult of sorts! Often repeated in films and TV shows of India.

    Personally I do not like this film much. I love Amitabh films but found him MCP in this one. Manmohan Desai was losing his touch and this film certainly didn’t have the believability of his previous films. I don’t like Amrita Singh in this film either. Villains were also OTT.

    I rue the fact that Amitabh continued to stick with Desai. In fact his other films done later, even Shahenshah, Hum, Aaj ka Arjun and Khuda Gawah are better. Other directors were better in exploring urban themes and also giving Bachchan a more mature, age appropriate look.

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